It seems we’re reaching the end of the Ping-Pong and pool table period.
It couldn’t come soon enough for me. Something just feels different these days, and maybe it’s a growing need to hunker down a bit and take the task of “taking care of business” a lot more seriously.
Let’s dial back leisure in the office, lower the volume on the whining and worrying about hurt feelings, and double down on sweat and toil.
We call it “work” for a reason and, while it can certainly be plenty stimulating and rewarding, work is not intended to be all fun, all the time. Never was.
There’s still no substitute for hard, purposeful work and no more likely path to eventual success. Talent and creativity are great, and should certainly be encouraged, but effort and execution are what really matter.
These aren’t the frothy, kombucha-and-beer times of yore any longer.
Global competition is rising, a recession is almost certainly on the horizon (it’s only a question of when), and when the market and the investors start seriously keeping score, all the touchy-feely awards for “the very best place in the whole wide world to work” aren’t gonna matter much if your team isn’t monetizing your business and putting some real numbers on the bottom line.
The thought of a bunch of clowns playing Pong (analog or throwback digital) in the middle of the day while other team members are busting their butts trying to get a new software release out the door no longer computes.
Camaraderie is crucial in any new business, but it’s important to make sure that it comes from the shared pride of completing what needs to get done, not solely from Thursday night shots, smelly cigars and card games.
That also includes the pinball machines, foosball tables and the pool table, which is just as passé today as the phony masse shot that Matthew McConaughey makes in the latest Lincoln Navigator TV ad.
Real company cultures are built on respect, recognition and well-earned rewards, not free food, laundry services and recreational resources.
Your customers don’t really care about the perks, the toys or the cereal selections in your break room. When their system’s not working, they want the best software engineer on the case, not the guy who racked up the highest score playing pinball.
And your best and most important employees don’t really care about all this nonsense, either. They’re the ones who are head-down and have no time to fool around.
Businesses rapidly become the behaviors that they tolerate, and it only takes a few slackers and snowflakes to suck the life, energy and momentum out of any startup. Part of the job is to make sure that doesn’t happen.
When people are struggling to answer too many incoming customer calls or polishing a PowerPoint for an important funding pitch, or cold-calling piles of prospects, it seems foolish to show up at a meeting late because you were tapping the keg or sitting on a beanbag chair playing a video game.
You don’t really want to be the office’s social director and party person. The goal is to be the “go-to” guy — not the mope you’d probably have a drink with, but never count on for much of anything else.
Late night and after-hours bonding activities might be fine, but what authentic entrepreneur has ever had regular office hours to? In the real world, you work until you’re about to fall over and then you go home so you can pick yourself up in the morning and do it all over again.
If you want to build a serious business, that’s the behavior you want to model. That’s what people inside and outside the business pick up on. Passion and commitment make a difference.
You want to build a team that finds its satisfaction in achievements and accomplishments and not one that’s fixated on freebies and fresh fruit. If you have to bribe your people with goodies or otherwise convince them to work hard and do their best, you’ve got the wrong people and you’re sending the wrong message.
And if you think having a Ping-Pong table in the office makes you look cool, you’re wrong.
It’s all about revenues and results, not refreshments and recreation.
Howard Tullman is is executive director of the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He is the former CEO of Chicago-based 1871, an incubator for 500 digital startups.